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Update #2 – Rebecca Bryn

Rebecca was the second Indie Author to feature in my “A Date With . . .” series during 2018 (the original interview is here). I recently asked her for an update on her career and her hobbies. This is what she said:

“Once again this year, royalties from sales and page reads of Touching the Wire for the whole of January, will be donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d love some more sales, but this year, sales of it seem a bit slow although I am getting page reads via Kindle Unlimited, all of which count towards the donation.

My books are being read, and that is the important thing. I feel as if I’m making a little headway.

Last year, I published The Dandelion Clock, and it’s had some amazing reviews*. (The ending made me cry, by the way) Sales are steady , and I’m embarking on Amazon ads in the hope of spreading my words to a larger audience – I watched a webinar this afternoon about Google and Amazon keywords and categories – interesting stuff if I can put it into practice, but promotion is a tricky business and very time consuming when I’d rather be writing. I suppose it’s part of the price to pay for deciding to be an Independent author.

My WIP, Kindred and Affinity, is inspired by another branch of my errant forebears. This time, it’s my father’s side of the family that’s under scrutiny and comes up not so squeaky clean. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist and signed the pledge, mainly because his father was an alcoholic who beat his wife, got drunk, and fell off a roof. (He was a builder) My paternal grandmother’s father married sisters at a time when it was against the rules of kindred and affinity in the book of Common Prayer, hence the book title. He married his dead wife’s sister in 1891, and it wasn’t legal until 1907 so it must have been done in secret somehow. There had to be a story there, didn’t there? It’s taken me a while to tease it out, and I’ve discovered a lot about a woman I only knew as Auntie Annie, who died aged ninety when I was about seven. If I’d known I was going to write her story, I’d have asked her what it was… But you’ll have to read Kindred and Affinity to find out more. I’m 66,000 words into it and hope to publish it later this year.

This story is the first time that I’ve had no idea of the beginning or the end, but only a part of the middle – usually I have a beginning and an end and no idea what will happen in between. My books are somewhat seat of the pants writing style as dictated by the stupid decisions my characters make. I have various projects in mind to follow next year, but I’m not sure which one I’ll choose. They’re all contemporary fiction – mainly mystery, which will make a change from writing historical fiction. I have the titles and the covers for inspiration, but so far the stories are no more than a vague idea in the back of my mind.

Last year, I revisited all my published titles and edited them. You know the sort of thing – moved a few commas, cut out repetition, tightened the writing a bit. It took several months but was worth doing, and I enjoyed reconnecting with my characters. I had On Different Shores professionally edited and learnt a lot in the process – money well spent – hence my subsequent self-editing spree. I also brought out a box set of For Their Country’s Good trilogy which is selling steadily. Haven’t I been busy?

So busy, my painting has suffered a bit. I’m still painting and exhibiting in St Davids. We have two exhibitions a year at Easter and the beginning of August and sell a lot of work. I enjoy it, even though I don’t do as much as I’d like, and I’ve made good friends. It isn’t such a solitary occupation as writing, where my friends are mainly ‘virtual’ but good friends none-the-less.

Rebecca’s beautifull Pembrokeshire garden showing the new planting

In between painting and writing, I’ve replanted the new garden after spraying the whole area with weed killer to get rid of brambles – 24 one-ton bags went to the tip before we sprayed. I had to wait a year before I could re-plant, so I’m looking forward to some colour this summer. And we’ve put in a new fireplace and new curtains. And when I’m really bored, I mean desperately mind-numbingly bored, (edit out those adverbs) I do some housework!

Anything else? I’m hoping to look into the production of audio books this year. It is something I’d like to do as my mother and mother-in-law both lost their sight in later years and relied on talking books. Other than that, I’m a year older, a year stiffer, and hopefully, a year wiser and a better writer. Life is one huge learning curve, and I’m still climbing it.”

*You can read my review of The Dandelion Clock here, and find all Rebecca’s books on her website.

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Buy This Book: Help Veterans and Horses

At risk of becoming a bore by repeating my admiration for this writer and her latest book, I give you here her own words about the charities she’s supporting with royalties.

the-dandelion-clock-4-tanned-enlarged-florrie-hair-softened-and-photos-soft-edged-with-overlays-top-faded-subtitles-moved-pic-moved-in-red-shadow-with-top-liRight now you can get it for 0.99 of your local currency on pre-order for delivery on September 5. I ordered my copy a while back, even though I had the privilege of reading an early draft. I don’t merely recommend it, I urge you to get your hands on it if you haven’t already. You will not be disappointed, either by plot, by character development or by the sheer quality of the writing.

https://rhondahopkins.com/2018/08/29/authors-give-back-rebecca-bryn/

 

A Date With . . . Cathy M Donnelly

My ‘date’ this time is with a Scottish writer who has lived for more than a quarter century in Australia. Cathy Donnelly lives in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula in the State of Victoria. Here is her description:

“It is a coastal city about an hour from Melbourne and is a great place to live. I am fortunate to be able to walk on the beach almost every day. When I was in Scotland I bought all the waterproof gear so I can walk even when the waves are thrashing against the rocks and the sea wall. Everything I need is no more than 15 minutes’ drive away – the bay, the library, the shops, where I attend the local writing group and lovely botanical gardens.

I love working in my garden and feeding the many species of birds that come to visit. They used to come for dinner in the evening but now it is breakfast and a snack during the day as well. It always makes me smile to see them lined up on the decking rail, singing their hearts out, or just waiting patiently until I notice them. The kookaburras take the food from my hand and the magpies bring their babies and leave them while they go off and do what they do. They obviously trust us not to harm them as they are known to attack anyone who gets near their young.

We get the different seasons here, which I love. It can reach 40 degrees sometimes in the summer but not usually for weeks on end. You know relief from the humidity will eventually come. The area also has a reputation of having all four seasons on the same day.

Nevil Shute, the author of A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, used to live here. Some of the scenes in the movie version of On the Beach were filmed around here and there is an old photo of Gregory Peck standing on the same station I caught the train from every day for the 15 years I worked in Melbourne.”

Despite her long sojourn in Australia, it is Scotland and its history that inspires Cathy’s writing.

“I moved to Australia when I was forty and although I have lived here for 26 years now, Scotland is still home. I visit my family every two or three years and its beauty still takes my breath away. My sister, Linda, and her family live in the house I was brought up in.

It is so special to still be able to sleep in my parents’ old room and visit the village where I went to school and grew up in. I love the familiarity and the memories.

I was checking with my other sister, Wilma, on Skype the other night about the time it would take for one the characters in my new novel to travel by car from one of the tourist hotspots near her, to Edinburgh. The route is mostly two-way roads through villages. She said it depended on the ain’t thats. You could be driving along the road doing the speed limit when suddenly the car in front of you slows right down, causing all the cars behind it to put on their brakes. The locals call these drivers aint thats because they know at least one person in that car is pointing out of the window and saying “ain’t that beautiful”. It happens all the time. I am sure everyone knows that the Scots are well known for their calm demeanour.”

Like Kate Mosse, Cathy uses the idea of reincarnation and other time-shifting devices to take her protagonists to different historical periods.

580537_5fe0cf215a794d9ea9b6fc45fd4eb76c“I have always been fascinated by the concepts of past lives and time travel. They open up such possibilities from a personal point of view, and more so when it comes to telling a story. With my first novel Distant Whispers, I was able to combine quite a few of my interests – reincarnation, the Knights Templar, Alexander the Great, religions – using these concepts. I thoroughly enjoy the scope it gives me in my writing.”

I asked Cathy about the lessons that could be – and perhaps have not been – learned from the many conflicts that feature in Scottish history.

“History was one of my favourite subjects at school so I knew even as a child that the English and the Scots had always fought amongst themselves, and against each other, throughout their ancient history.

The kings and queens, nobles and gentry, could do what they wanted in those days. It could be that they were just bored with their daily lives or easily offended, but no matter what the reason, one side would do the wrong thing and it would be “round up the peasants” and off they went to pillage and destroy.

I used to think all this history was just that – something in the past, but for some reason the Scots, as with the Irish, do not forget easily. They can carry a grudge for a very long time. I listened to some of the debates and discussions about Scotland independence. I am a very patriotic Scot but I had to ask myself – why do we need it?

We may share the same island and have the same royal family, but the Scots, the English, and also the Irish, all have their separate identities.

I have never considered myself anything but Scottish.

I have noticed that Scots do not seem to mind if their accent is mistaken for Irish when they are overseas, but God forbid if someone asks if they are English. I do not think there would be many Scots who do not have English relatives.

In the lead up to the vote for independence, I asked a friend, who is a fierce, obsessive, Scottish Nationalist, how would it work regarding pensions, health care, borders etc. Her answer was “just let’s get independence and we can worry about all that later.’

On the English side, I do not think they care one way or the other. They recognise we are Scottish and they are English and we both have pride in our heritage.

So, the answer to your question. There are still many people who have repeatedly failed to learn any lessons from the past, but I do understand that it is an emotional issue and you cannot knock being proud of who you are and where you come from.”

Cathy has only recently begun using a computer for writing:

“I have an office area set up at home with my computer and files, but I find I get more inspiration from writing by hand. I wrote my first novel, the majority of my second one, and most of my short stories by hand on the train journey to work, or in bed at night. It was quite an adjustment for me to try to put it straight onto the computer, but when the house is quiet and all I can hear are the words going around in my head, I am getting used to it. I still look forward to taking my notebook to bed and just letting my thoughts wander.”

I usually ask my subjects to tell me which writers they most admire but I already know from a previous interview she did with Millie Slavidou that she is a fan of David Mitchell and his book Cloud Atlas. What was it about that book and its author that so affected her?

Cloud Atlas took the theme of reincarnation to a completely new level. It was a complex story in so many ways and I was blown away by the writing, the characters, the locations, the timelines. I read it a second time immediately after the first reading, and have watched the movie three times. I can say without hesitation that this will always be my favourite story. You ask what I would hope to learn from David Mitchell if I spent time with him? I am really not sure if it is possible to learn genius.”

To date Cathy has not used a professional editor:

“My background is proofreading of Cabinet and Ministerial briefings so I assumed I would be okay with the grammar and spelling components of writing. Obviously, that is not all that is needed in writing a novel. I was fortunate that a couple of people offered to read my first novel before publication and a friend who is a Scottish history expert read the second one. Thankfully they all picked up things I had missed and made very useful suggestions for which I was very grateful. It is all a learning curve and I hope to get some beta readers, and also a professional editor, for my new novel.

I think a first novel is very precious and there is always the fear that if you get someone else to read it they might come back and say it is awful. I am over that now and realise the benefit of having the opinion of others.”

Many independent authors find marketing the hardest part of the business of writing. Cathy has succeeded in getting her books stocked in the heritage sites that feature in them, something I’ve tried myself. I wondered what other marketing techniques she has found useful.

580537_4760a055a4b741a6a288c4e3cc78185cmv2_d_1832_2772_s_2“For me, marketing is definitely the hardest part of the business. I am learning as I go. I am fortunate that Wilma, pushes me along. She took my Scottish novel There is a Place to the VisitScotland tourist shop in Aberfoyle, which is near the main location in the book, and asked them if they would consider stocking it because of the local interest.

As a result, they invited me to do a book signing when I was there last year. It was not as scary as I thought it would be. I am going home again next year and they said to let them know and they would arrange a signing for the new one.

I would also say that being part of the Indie Author Support & Discussion Facebook group has given me more confidence to put myself out there. The members share what they think works and what does not, and their support has helped me move outside my comfort zone. When I release my new novel, I will make sure I have a clear plan on how to market it.”

Cathy is currently working on her third novel and she revealed a little about it.

580537_6be0f02323b74413a32fa8e53d9fe17emv2Memories of the Night Sky is the story of Catriona, an author who begins to dream stories she feels compelled to write. It is set in Scotland in the present day, the 9th century and in 1307 and involves Druids, Knights Templar and forbidden love. I enjoyed being able to incorporate my interest in different spiritual traditions and pagan rituals.

I am working on the first edit at the moment and hope to have it ready to publish by the end of the year.”

I like to conclude my ‘dates’ by asking my subject to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their readers. Here’s Cathy:

“For decades I thought of joining a coven and training to become a witch – a white witch, of course. I have lived and worked in various places around Australia so I kept putting it off until I settled. When I did settle in Frankston I thought the time was right, but do you know how hard it is to find a coven? I thought they would be everywhere but alas, no. I am now in my sixties. I wonder if it is too late? Perhaps not.”

So if there is anyone out there who knows of a coven not too far from Melbourne, please get in touch with Cathy. You can find her here and on Facebook and Goodreads.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

That’s what makes a great writer, according to Rebecca Bryn and she should know, being one of the greatest. Her work deserves much wider recognition. “For Their Country’s Good” would make a TV series to rival “Poldark” and “The Dandelion Clock”, which I had the privilege of reading pre-publication, has echoes of Michael Morpurgo’s “War Horse”.

Writing that comes from the heart, with deep emotional overtones and well developed characters, will always captivate me as a reader. Ms. Bryn does that brilliantly.

via It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

Writers and Readers don’t always Understand Each Other

This post from Rebecca Bryn resonated with me because I recently received a couple of critical reviews of Strongbow’s Wife. In one case the writer of the review kindly e-mailed me pointing out a couple of minor period details that I got wrong. The other claimed to have had his faith in the book destroyed by the appearance of a minor  character who aspired to write ‘poetry in the Greek fashion’. Impossible in Medieval Britain according to my critic. Trouble is he was a real person who did indeed write epic poetry emulating Homer.
Rebecca is definitely one of my favourite authors, though I have yet to read The Silence of the Stones. I guess it’s time I did.

via Unpleasant and juvenile? Bad reviews -2

A Date With . . . Graham Watkins

In 2003 Graham Watkins and his wife sold their Marine Engineering business and escaped to the country by purchasing a small-holding in the Brecon Beacons. His first venture into publishing was a “how to” book based on the experience, entitled ‘Exit Strategy’. I began our ‘date’ by asking him about his Welsh hill farm.b88573_12bc012d15d5498dbf67883562dbe26c

“My hobby farm is six acres. When we first moved here 15 years ago a neighbour asked, with a knowing smile, if the animals had started arriving yet? I had no idea what she meant at the time. Since then they have, including dogs, chickens, ducks, Welsh Black cattle and sheep together with foxes, polecats, buzzards and red kites proving we are, ‘red in tooth and claw.’ I’m actually an apprentice farmer under instruction from friends who know what they are doing. There’s no money involved but our freezer is well stocked and we eat honest food.”

The couple enjoy walking and this inspired Graham’s next publishing venture.

“Welsh Legends and Myths started as a walking book containing sixteen walks each associated with a local legend in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.b88573_58d60192600d4c2a813db86f57daff17 It was an excuse to get out and explore.b88573_93836c5afb4a44de905539334c62b227 The project grew into five walking books ‘Walking with Welsh Legends’ covering the entire country and took four years to complete. Since then I’ve republished all eighty legends in one volume ‘Welsh Legends and Myths’ as a paperback, eBook and an audio book.”

The couple’s interest in travel and exploration is not limited to Wales, however, and in 2016 led them into unanticipated danger:

“I’ve always enjoyed travelling and started my working life as a marine engineer visiting the far east, South America and other far flung places. Since retiring we have continued to travel to other countries including, America, China, Africa and New Zealand – We were whale watching in Kaikoura in 2016 when the 7.8 scale earthquake struck.

The quake hit just after midnight obliterating much of the town and cutting it off from the rest of the world. All roads were destroyed. Marooned, we spent three days sleeping in our hire car, living on marmalade sandwiches, before being rescued by military helicopter.

Our next adventure is a month long road trip in Canada later this year.”

Graham also writes historical fiction. That requires a good deal of research and I wondered if he enjoys that aspect of the genre.

b88573_995f0e9c55c84f42a249845550323c17“For me, research is part of the joy of writing. I have a family connection to Merthyr and it was great fun delving into the history behind my book ‘The Iron Masters’. The timeline I produced for the novel contained a wealth of facts which I found fascinating, in some cases, almost stranger than the fiction I was creating.b88573_1897612c0b8d44e39d8cdadc7bc68cd0

‘A White Man’s War’ my South African novel was inspired by a tour of the Zulu and Boer War battlefields and a book written by Thomas Packenham containing the photograph of a young African man stood at attention in front of a group of army officers.

He looked terrified and with good reason; he’d just been sentenced to death for stealing a goat.

The title for the book came from a letter Boer General Cronje wrote to a Colonel Baden-Powell – that’s a name you might be familiar with.

Sir

It is understood that you have armed Bastards, Fingoes and Baralongs against us – in this you have committed an enormous act of wickedness…reconsider the matter, even if it cost you the loss of Mafeking… disarm your blacks and thereby act the part of a white man in a white man’s war.”

With Graham having written about the Napoleonic period in European history it should come as no surprise that David Howard is high on his list of favourite authors.

“His treatment of Napoleonic history is breathtaking. Another is Daniel Yergin. Who would think a book about the history of the oil industry would be a page turner? Perhaps the most inspirational is Jean-Dominique Bauby. His book ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ was superb. It reduced me to tears. I’m currently reading ‘Popski’s Private Army’ by Vladimir Peniakoff. I once worked with a friend, long since dead, who was one of Popski’s men. It’s an incredible story of heroism and endurance.”

He has been published by traditional publishers but now prefers to be independent.

“The publishing landscape is changing at a rapid pace. I’ve published with traditional publishers but more recently as an indie author. Why? Because

I like to keep control of my work and unless you’re a J.K. Rowling or a ‘Celebrity’ there’s no advantage in being with a traditional publisher.

Either way, the author ends up doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing.”

Asked about his writing process he begins by referring to Enid Blyton.

“I read somewhere that Enid Blyton wrote at the rate of 6000 words a day. Mind you, she was writing about Noddy. My limit is about 1000 words which I write in the morning. After that my eyes glaze over and it’s time to go and do something else, mow the lawn, paint the house or perhaps walk on the mountain.”

Graham is an accomplished public speaker, a skill about which he is characteristically modest.

“I’m told I like the sound of my own voice which must be true because I’m sometimes invited to give talks to different audiences. How good I am is debatable and I confess I once put a listener to sleep at a black tie Rotary event where I was the after dinner speaker. The poor chap almost fell off his chair. It might have been what I was saying but I suspect his wine consumption was the real culprit.”

I thanked Graham for an enjoyable date full of interesting insights. You can find out much more about Graham from his website, his Facebook page and his Amazon Author page.

Honest Hearts is Going Wide

If you read yesterday’s post about making my books available on other platforms as well as Kindle and then clicked through to my publications page you may have wondered why Honest Hearts was not included. Honest Hearts was my first novel. Before uploading it to Draft2Digital I read it through and decided that there is much room for improvement. So until those improvements are made I shall not be ‘going wide’ with it. That may take a little while as I also want to finish The Poor Law Inspector.

Meanwhile, here is a short extract. It is a bit of back story that explains how the female protagonist came under the  evil influence of a dodgy character of Italian descent. I present it here exactly as I wrote it back in 2011 and I’m offering it as my entry to Stevie Turner’s March short story contest. I shall call it “Byrne Terrace”.

Byrne Terrace

The new buildings that sprang up to accommodate the massive influx of humanity flocking to the new conurbations of North America during the second half of the nineteenth century were often of poor quality construction. Many were made of timber. So it should be no surprise that there were so many devastating fires during that period.

The wealthy – professional people, landlords and factory owners – could afford to take out insurance against such an eventuality. The poor could not. So when a building was consumed by fire the owners of the affected buildings could easily build anew, usually using better quality materials. The tenants however lost their few belongings and, being uninsured, were frequently left with little more than the clothes they were wearing. These, though, were the fortunate ones for many others lost their lives.

But life for everyone was precarious in these years. Professionals, factory owners and landlords would, like as not, be in hock to a bank or money lender. In the event of a fire or other disaster it would be the bank or money lender who would benefit. It was the bank or money lender therefore that acquired the new building paid for by the insurance money.

Some of the wealthy adopted habits not entirely conducive to retaining, let alone expanding their wealth. On the shore of Coney Island for example frequent horse races were run and many people who ought to have known better lost fortunes betting on the outcome of these races. Others became slaves to the god alcohol. Combining the two was a recipe for disaster.

It certainly was in the case of Joseph Byrne. Since arriving in North America Joe had worked hard, saved diligently and invested his savings in land on which he built, with his own hard labour and that of fellow Irishmen, houses that were of a generally higher standard than most of those that he watched being crudely assembled alongside. Once his houses were completed he was able, because of their superior quality, to lease them to some of the more discerning of tenants. In this way he was able to ensure that his wife Mary and the daughter they eventually produced enjoyed relatively comfortable lives.

Of all the houses that Joseph built the most solid and attractive was the one that he and his small family inhabited. Its rooms were larger than any in his tenanted houses. It was furnished with cabinets and chaises of a quality that would normally be found only in the homes of much wealthier individuals.

All of this was achieved in fewer than two decades of hard work and Mary was naturally proud of her husband’s achievements and as grateful for the beautiful and talented daughter he had given her as for the many examples of craftsmanship and artistry with which he had filled their home. Now that Joe’s thick wavy hair was turning grey and his jowls coming to resemble those of an overfed turkey she had begun to hope that he would slow down. It would be nice, she thought, to be able to spend more time together; to have him beside her, as well as their daughter, when they took a stroll along the boardwalk; to accompany him to the races and maybe have a small flutter on a horse.

119

The Sheepshead Bay racetrack, taken by George Bradford Brainard, courtesy the Brooklyn Museum. Reproduced from “No sheep in Sheepshead Bay at boweryboyshistory.com

Had Mary been aware that Joe was already attending the races on a regular basis and having much more than a “small flutter” on every occasion she would have had cause for concern. To be fair, Joe’s judgement of horseflesh, like his judgement of quality in building and in interior furnishings, had been impeccable at the start. Indeed, not a few of the fine things in Joe and Mary’s home had been purchased with the proceeds from a well placed bet.

As time went on, though, Joe began to make some reckless wagers. Even the best of tipsters will sometimes fail to produce an accurate forecast of the outcome of a race. Perhaps the rider is out of sorts on the day. Perhaps a sudden fall of rain makes the sand softer than anticipated thereby favouring a different horse. And it is never beyond the bounds of possibility that behind the scene someone is determined to ensure a particular outcome and has the power to guarantee that such outcome ensues. No amount of expertise in the attributes of horse or rider can counter such things.

The sensible punter puts such losses behind him and determines either never to bet again or, at the very least, to keep his bets within affordable limits. The man who is confident of his ability on the other hand will conclude that the best way to cover his losses is to place a bigger bet on the next prospect. It is at this point that the sensible person will begin to question the judgement of the other. The over-confident person never questions his own judgement. And if he is partial to a drop of the best Irish whiskey that money can buy his judgement can quickly become impaired to a dangerous degree.

It didn’t take Joe very long to get himself into a position where he needed to mortgage his tenanted houses in order to pay off his gambling debts. And it was not very long after that when he realised that he still was not winning – or at any rate not with the frequency necessary to meet payments on the mortgage. It was at this stage that his better judgement departed entirely. He determined that, as the houses were insured, if they were to be consumed by fire the mortgage would be paid off and he would be off the hook. Never mind that what he was planning was a crime. Never mind that it would leave him with no source of income. The bank would be off his back.

Still, it was a high risk strategy, only to be followed in extremis. One last bet on a certainty would also get him out of trouble. Only if that failed would he adopt the strategy that he had come to refer to as the final solution.

The wager on which he decided to stake everything – including his home and everything in it – was indeed an absolute certainty. Of course, as has been stated above, there is no such thing. The weather changes; riders have off days. So too do horses. Nevertheless, it was neither of these things that was to be the end of Joe Byrne and his small property empire.

Joe would never know it but the man with whom he placed at stake his only remaining asset was also the man who knew the outcome of the race; knew it because, as the owner of the horse and, in all but name, its rider, he had decreed that it would be so. Leonardo Carlucio had watched as Joe Byrne had worked to build his successful business. Consumed with envy Leonardo had nevertheless bided his time. He had watched as Joe’s gambling addiction had taken hold. He had encouraged Joe to cover his losses with ever larger stakes; had accompanied Joe as the latter sought solace in drink.

Joe was pleased to have found such a sympathetic ear into which to pour forth his concerns for his future and that of his wife and daughter. After all, he could hardly discuss the plight into which his business had fallen with them. That would have meant admitting to his weakness and would have destroyed their happiness. Of course, if his plans went awry their happiness would be destroyed in any case. But that would not happen. His new Italian friend had assured him that the bet he was about to make was as safe as any he had ever made. And Joe trusted Leonardo; would trust him with his life.

Leonardo certainly did know the bet was safe. But not in the way that Joe thought. Joe had no way of knowing that the person with whom he was placing the bet was actually in the employ of Leonardo and that Leonardo would be the beneficiary were the horse, by some freak of fate, not to win the race. Nor could Joe have known that there was no freak of fate involved; that, in fact, it was all pre-arranged so as to deliver Joe’s home, and with it his wife and daughter, into Leonardo’s hands.

As he watched the horse, on which he had staked everything, stumble and fall Joe Byrne wept. His life was surely over. His dearest friend Leonardo was beside him and tried to console him but it was impossible. He extricated himself from Leonardo’s embrace and, feet dragging, left the boardwalk. Entering the centre house in the block of five that he had built with such care barely a decade ago, he retrieved the tin of kerosene that he had stashed under the stairs earlier in the day.

He was certain that the houses would be empty at this time but, to be absolutely sure, he went to the front door of every apartment and checked that it was unoccupied. His judgement may have departed but he retained enough humanity to not wish to be responsible for the death of any of his tenants. All he wanted to do was to ensure that Mary and Maeve were not going to be held responsible for the mortgages on these properties. Rather, he aimed to ensure that they received a lump sum from the residue of the insurance payout after the mortgage had been repaid. This, he fervently hoped, would be sufficient to save them from destitution.

After he had placed a kerosene soaked rag under each basement floor he set a slow fuse to burn in the centre property. Then he walked away from the block. Crossing the boardwalk he strode across the sand so recently disturbed by the hooves of race horses. The seaward side of the track was already being eradicated by the incoming tide. Ignoring the waves washing over his feet and soaking the heavy corduroy of his trousers he continued walking. He did not hesitate as the icy water reached his paunch. He uttered a brief gasp as a wave several inches higher than its predecessor splashed his jaw and he tasted salt. But he didn’t stop. He had never learned to swim. If he had it would have made little difference. The weight of his wet clothes dragged him under and there was no longer any visible evidence of his existence. No neat pile of clothes on the beach. Nor had anyone seen him walk to his death. Everyone within sight was distracted by the fire raging in the row of dwellings that Mary liked to think of as Byrne terrace. It would be a long time before Mary came to appreciate the irony in the sound of those two words.